Cost of investigating Rochester police climbs
An independent investigation of two Rochester Police Department employees cost thousands of dollars while the two employees collected tens of thousands on paid administrative leave, and costs to resolve the situation continue to grow.
City officials are unsure of the full cost of two independent investigations that resulted in a 10-day suspension for an officer and the resignation of another staff person. The city continues to pay a consultant for services related to the second of two investigations, an official said Friday.
The investigation of complaints against Officer Ben Schlag — that he had inappropriately posted racially offensive material to social media — began shortly after Schlag was placed on paid administrative leave Feb. 18.
A week later, the police department announced it also had placed its professional standards manager, Scott Hildebrand, on paid administrative leave due to a potential conflict of interest.
The city of Rochester Human Resources Department coordinated investigations of the two employees and paid an outside investigator , attorney Michelle Soldo of Soldo Consulting, to gather the necessary information.
A billing invoice for Soldo's services, reviewed by the Post-Bulletin, showed the outside investigator billed the police department for 29 hours of work. Her work was completed from Feb. 27 to March 28.
Soldo's cost for services was $4,181.56. That cost included 29 hours of work at $140 per hour, $93.96 in travel expenses and $27.60 for copies and postage. Soldo also listed three hours and $420 of "no charge" services.
A second investigation, also conducted by Soldo, focused on Hildebrand, said city of Rochester Human Resources Director Linda Hillenbrand. An invoice for that investigation is not yet available because Soldo is still completing some "follow-up work," Hillenbrand said.
Schlag was paid $19,229.56 while on administrative leave, according to Hillenbrand. At the conclusion of the investigation, May 26, Schlag was handed a 10-day unpaid suspension as a result of the investigation.
Hildebrand was paid $24,865.98 while on administrative leave. He resigned following the investigation , effective June 1. Due to the city's payroll system lagging one week behind, the estimated total paid administrative leave to Hildebrand will be $26,420.09, according to the city's human resources department.
Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson called the costs of investigations and the wages paid to employees on leave "frustratingly high." He also noted the cost of violating the rights of employees to due process would have been much higher.
Public employees cannot be deprived of pay and benefits without due process requirements, Peterson explained, which is why both Schlag and Hildebrand were on paid leave.
"This obviously results in direct costs associated with the required leave time leave as well as additional workload for other staff," Peterson said.
Additional costs that are more difficult to quantify include lost productivity, increased workload to other department staff and impacts to service delivery, Peterson said.
The two-month lapse between the conclusion of Soldo's investigation of Schlag on March 28 and Peterson's personnel decision on May 26 was caused by two factors, Peterson said: the subsequent investigation of Hildebrand and the necessary research of legal and constitutional issues involved.
"It should be noted that, while the costs associated with these procedures are frustratingly high, the failure to complete thorough investigations and adhere to the necessary due process requirements are exponentially higher," Peterson said. "As such, these matters were resolved as quickly as circumstances allowed without compromising the integrity of the process and its final outcome."
A cost total for the second independent investigation should be available within the next two weeks, Hillenbrand said.